“And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains.
Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias
How arrogant we humans are, in the edifices we build around ourselves. We close our eyes, and pretend that neither COVID-19 nor (un)natural disasters of any kind will really affect us for too long. We can handle it all. Bring it on.
However, I think we* are just beginning to realize this now: COVID-19 is just playing with us humans. It’s pushing the envelope. The vision of the U.S. President, trying to suppress his heaving chest, pulling his mask off and giving some kind of weird salute on the White House balcony might delight his cult followers. He certainly wasn’t fooling COVID.
“The scientists have given [modern man] the impression that there is nothing he cannot know, and false propagandists have told him that there is nothing he cannot have.”
― Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
It’s no different with climate change. Nature is having severe symptoms too, but like Trump, we have largely chosen to ignore its signs of distress. The planet is trying to tell us “I am sick, can’t you see?” So, as Hurricane Delta (now an all-too-common Category Four) drags itself away from us and has meteorologists agog in Mexico (“sub 900 millibars at landfall!”), we are aghast at the floods in downtown Kingston, as if we weren’t expecting them.
Note: According to the hurricane experts in the U.S., this year is “the fifth consecutive above-average Atlantic hurricane season (2016 – 2020).”
In the city, where we are so much in control of our environment, where we are safely enveloped in concrete and where roads are being constantly fixed and drains widened, at a cost of billions? Why is this happening?
We point fingers at the engineers and building contractors, and most of all at the gentleman who speaks for the National Works Agency. I understand there is not that much money left in the kitty for road repairs (due to expenditure on the aforementioned COVID); and very little for all the wonderful planned new roads, such as the Montego Bay Bypass. The latter, by the way, is currently designed to cut right through one of the dwindling wetland areas on our coastline. This precious habitat, protection against the threats of climate change, is getting a reprieve, for now.
We know politicians love infrastructure and the accompanying photo-ops. They love to gaze along a sweeping stretch of new highway. Cutting ribbons with an oversize pair of scissors, and taking up one of those shiny new spades with ribbons tied to it, for a “ground-breaking.” So satisfying!
To placate “the environmentalists,” the politicians will make a show of planting a very young tree, once per year on National Tree Planting Day, usually accompanied by a student in school uniform – the latter person symbolizing what’s left of our future, one supposes. After that, it’s back to normal – cutting down trees to build detour roads for a new highway in eastern Jamaica (how many, I wonder – has anyone been counting?) Approvals are on the cards now for a huge 2,000-room hotel (and casino?) to be built on pristine wetlands in Green Island, Hanover. Of course, thanks to COVID-19, it’s not quite clear where the tourists will be coming from.
One day we drove along Junction Road close to the north coast, and found total upheaval. Bulldozers were moving busily up and down, huge (possibly ancient) boulders had been blasted and cast aside, and trees were cut down. An entire hillside – native trees and plants and everything that lived in and depended on them, rocks, two or three homes, and a lovely spring that was often used by thirsty passers-by (including my husband)… all had been hacked down. Instead, we had a man-made “embankment” and a smooth road surface that has been described as “cyaapet” (carpet). When I asked the Member of Parliament what was the purpose of all this destruction, he told me it was for the development of the area. “Development” can have a very vague meaning, sometimes. Two weeks ago we learned that after a period of heavy rain, the embankment had “failed” and the “cyaapet” had broken up. There are various theories as to why, but the question is: Why mess around with Nature? It will sort itself out (and now it has done just that).
Yes, we think we are in control.
The reasoning behind our approach COVID (and climate change) is – we must get back to normal! This is always at the back of we humans’ minds. We persist. Even though the situation is becoming less and less “normal,” we cling to the status quo. In fact, we – meaning, in this case, the “powers that be” – really do want to get back to building more roads and hotels, and bringing in more visitors, who may or may not be “symptomatic.” We want those cruise ships back! Oh, and we want to jet off to our important conferences again. We talk about a “new normal” for our public health, our environment, our economy – but we don’t really want it. It sounds good in speeches, though.
“We can never be gods, after all–but we can become something less than human with frightening ease.”
― N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
It’s our supreme arrogance that we believe we are in charge, like Trump on the balcony, implying with his body language that COVID-19 “ah nuh nutten” (“It’s nothing”). But, what went wrong? We thought we could “manage” COVID-19 – while hundreds and thousands suffer and die the world over. It is managing us. And deep down, we know it. We change curfew hours back and forth, and we are hoping that all will be well by Christmas, so we can have fun again. But we are not the ones who can decide that, ultimately. COVID will decide it.
In the same way, with hope and belief in our hearts, we build walls to keep the sea from eating away at the road in downtown Kingston. We pile up huge boulders along the Palisadoes road, which is virtually at sea level. Right, all set now. If a major storm hits us, what kind of protection will they really provide? The photos below show Mayor Delroy Williams of Kingston & St. Andrew (in grey suit) at the revetment project downtown, designed to protect the road from the sea.
As the Governor of New York said today, we humans may be suffering from “COVID fatigue,” but the virus isn’t tired, at all. It can carry on.
In our hubris, we wave it off. We wave off climate change, too. We can deal with it. The Planet is telling us something different, though. We have taken it for granted, abused and disrespected it, for far too long. In those kinds of relationships, the aggrieved one feels hurt and angry. And so it is.
So, we need to change that relationship. We need to “give back” – to transform it into a caring, respectful relationship. We need to simply love our Planet Earth (at the risk of sounding like an old hippie – which I am!) The Planet will give back to us a thousand-fold, we know this. And there is nothing wrong with that emotion – LOVE.
So. We know what to do. First of all, we should eat some “humble pie” and hope the Earth will forgive us.